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‘Practical Sympathy’: Disaster Response in the British Caribbean 1812-1907

Webber, Oscar (2018) ‘Practical Sympathy’: Disaster Response in the British Caribbean 1812-1907. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Oscar_Webber_History_PhD_2018.pdf - Final eThesis - complete (pdf)
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Informed by environmental history, this thesis sets out to examine what shaped British colonial responses to disaster in the nineteenth and twentieth century Caribbean. To answer that question, the thesis uses colonial documents and contemporary travel writing to first examine the environmental change that British colonialism wrought on the region. Those in control of the colonies were primarily driven by their desire to extract profit from them and the sugar plantation emerged as the primary vehicle by which to do it. Plantation monoculture was intensively expanded through deforestation and exhaustive use of soils. Those in control of the region could not conceive of any other way to derive profit from the region, thus locking in this system and precluding more sustainable enterprise. What is more, these enduring alterations forced upon the islands made their inhabitants more vulnerable to the region’s hazards. This thesis argues that this unchecked desire to extract wealth was one of the primary shapers of relief. First-hand accounts and colonial office records show that, in the short term, colonial responses were ad-hoc, and fraught with anxiety due to the need to respond to shortages of food and materials. These shortages ultimately stemmed from the deleterious effects of intensive plantation agriculture. Furthermore, a deep racist fear of African-Caribbean insurrection meant that in these moments of flux the desire to ensure white control was another central shaper of colonial responses. This thesis concludes that in the long term, as the plantation remained the foundation of the economy, Parliament primarily offered relief, not to address human suffering, but as a form of ‘practical sympathy’ to ensure that plantations were rebuilt and control over the labouring population was retained.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Caribbean, British, Empire, Disasters, relief
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of History (Leeds)
Depositing User: Dr Oscar Webber
Date Deposited: 01 Apr 2019 10:00
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2019 10:00
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/23360

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